05 December 2002
It’s been a year since the United Nations International Year of the Volunteer (IVY 2001), when more than 108 countries around the world celebrated the role of Volunteers in addressing the fundamental needs of our social fabric.
VIA Africa, Visionaries in Action Across Africa, is a South African based network with the vision of creating an enabling environment for Volunteering in the continent. In 2000, the organisation launched the first ever African portal aimed at providing potential volunteers with diverse range of volunteer opportunities.
Over a two year period, VIA Africa has uncovered a host of volunteer hosting organisations, and thousands of South Africans willing and hungry to make a tangible difference by giving off their time, effort and energy in a voluntary capacity.
According to Nadine Naidoo, VIA Africa’s Founding Trustee, the highlight of the operation was the Gauteng Online Letsema Celebration, held on August 31, 2002, as an official parallel event of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). VIA Africa partnered with the Department of Education to bring together the largest gathering of youth and children at Orlando Stadium, Soweto.
Our purpose was to enable young people to celebrate Africa’s solutions to Africa’s development challenges. Whilst the Summit sadly reflected a widening gap between the rich and poor nations over the decade since Rio, Africa has generated solutions and mechanisms for social and economic regeneration that we should be proud of. And a true African treasure is the spirit of Voluntarism which lead our people through the struggle and continues to inspire social entrepreneurs and innovators in the civil society, business and government sectors to lead by example.
It is this spirit of Ubuntu that drives citizens of Africa to share each other’s burdens and mother each other’s children. Africa’s, and especially South Africa’s legacy to the world, is that development is not dependent solely on the availability of financial resources. Our true worth is the volume of our social capital. Hence the Gauteng Online Letsema Celebration was an opportunity to put Voluntarism on the agenda of the WSSD, whilst putting the visions of our youth into ACTION through a range of celebrity lead volunteer activities in the Orlando Community.
Naidoo says that VIA Africa’s technology, media and mobilisation model incorporates elements of successful operations based from around the world. In addition to researching the strategy when she was selected to address a 108 country congregation in Geneva last November at the International Symposium on Volunteering, she also lead discussions and visits to the UK’s Timebank and National Center for Volunteering.
The major difference between the developed and developing country volunteer sectors is the level of organisation and state-funding. Because Volunteering has been a mode of activism that characterised civil society during Apartheid, and Ubuntu is essentially part of being African, this act of giving has been taken for granted and almost expected to continue, regardless. Sadly, there is only so much a person, who is crippled by poverty, can give. She may have talents, skills, time and the ability to make a difference, but simply does not have the money to get to the place where she is needed, or is battling to survive HIV AIDs.
In this environment, there is the need for volunteer support, by way of in-kind and financial resources that cover out-of-pocket expenses at least. It is also critical to provide training for potential volunteers to harness their skill, and prepare them for the challenges of volunteering. VIA Africa is addressing these obstacles step by step.
Our first priority is to empower those who are able to volunteer, to get on with it, by linking potential volunteers with opportunities to put their visions into action.
When we started VIA Africa in 1999, we had no idea of just how needed critical the operation would turn out to be and research conducted by fellow social entrepreneurs like Robert Zipplies and Bev Russel have since provided affirmation:
In a 1998 comparative study across 28 countries commissioned by John Hopkins University, which was conducted in South Africa by the WITS Graduate School of Public and Development Management (P&DM), and Social Surveys (Pty) Ltd, found that nearly 1.5 million volunteers actively contributed their time and energy to South African NPOs in 1998. Their contribution equalled nearly 316 991 full-time equivalent jobs, and accounted for 49 percent of the non-profit workforce which is above the international average of 35% of the 28 countries that were compared.
In a South African perspective, the NPO sector was found to employ a larger workforce than South Africa’s mining industry or national government.
The research clearly showed that South African NPOs are capable of mobilising massive resources. When the total value of volunteer labour (R5.1 billion), private donations (R3.5 billion) and fees/dues/self-generated income (R4.6 billion) where added together, it was possible to estimate that in 1998 a massive R13.2 billion was raised in cash and in-kind by a wide range of NPOs to implement a large number of social and public programmes without leading to any substantial increase in the burden on the government’s tax base. (Russell and Muller, 2002)
Voluntarism forms the backbone of the non-profit sector, although the volunteer sector in South Africa is in the early stages of being formally developed. There are very few volunteer centers, apart from the Cape based Volunteer Center and the government has only recently begun to stress the importance of volunteering.
VIA Africa continues its collaboration with Volunteer South Africa, which was set up last year to promote the UN International Year of the Volunteer (IYV 2001). A major highlight of this partnership resulted in the regional Volunteer Vision for Southern Africa conference bringing together 7 countries in the SADC region to expand on the outcomes of IYV and consolidate gains made in respective countries towards the creation of national and regional infrastructure.
The VIA Africa network encompasses the corporate sector by facilitating corporate social investment through Employee Volunteering. In response to the President’s Letsema Campaign, VIA Africa was tasked by Timberland South Africa to bring together other corporate role players to give time and resources in the Timberland ServaPalooza held in May, as part of global 24 hour Service Campaign. It just takes one business leader to say, we’re doing it! to catalyse other leaders to join in. And they did staff from Cadiz Holdings, Y-fm, Plascon, Gardena, Care Group of Pharmacies, the Soweto Kliptown Youth Project and the Volunteer Center Cape Town joined hands and in-kind resources at Westbury Primary in Gauteng, Oscar Mpetha High in Cape Town and Parsee Rustomjee Primary in Durban. And the result: painted classrooms and food gardens that will serve the community beyond the Service Day.
VIA Africa is currently hosted at ADS 24 at MEDIAPARK as part of the groups Volunteer effort to support the operation.
CALL TO VOLUNTEERS AND VISIONARIES
The service provided by VIA Africa is free, and organisations that host volunteers are invited to promote their volunteer opportunities on-line. And potential volunteers are invited to turn their passion into action by joining the VIA Africa network for all the buzz on citizen service.